The words "Big Brother" used to connote the fearsome dictatorship at the heart of George Orwell's novel "1984." But in recent years, the words have applied instead to one of the smarmiest reality shows on TV, a show that imprisons a cast of young people in a house, hoping they'll passionately carp at and canoodle with one another -- not just in America, but in Britain and Australia as well.
Now in its seventh year, the American version is just starting up again with an "all-star" edition, if you can call these Warholian characters "stars." They are to celebrity what scum is to pond. In a "greatest hits" premiere, CBS showed what it hopes to hype this season, with old footage of nine bleeped F-bombs in the first few minutes and two women dancing around in nothing but flower petals attached with peanut butter.
Right now, it's Australia's "Big Brother " that's really capturing controversy, the jet fuel of raunch TV. Two men were kicked off the Australian show when one held a female contestant down, and the other rubbed his penis on her face.
The incident aired in the middle of the night on the live Internet feed, so it wasn't broadcast, and though replays showed you couldn't see much of the incident on screen, the cast knew what was happening, and so did everyone watching the feed. It quickly stirred up a whole new debate on the island continent about the laughable commitments to self-regulation by the TV industry. Australian Prime Minister John Howard was blunt: "Well, here's a great opportunity for Channel Ten to do a bit of self-regulation and get this stupid program off the air." If only our president would be so outspoken about Tinseltown.
Predictably, Channel Ten snickered and pledged to stay with this cash cow, and American restaurant chains are among those underwriting the filth, including KFC and Pizza Hut. Channel Ten's news show made the incident its No. 1 story two nights in a row. Then, the show's Australian host, Gretel Killeen, attacked the media for allegedly exaggerating the sexual harassment, saying their stories were ill-informed and perpetuated ignorance. She insisted the two men were "fantastic housemates, bringing joy not only to their fellow housemates, but to Australia as a whole."
One editorial insisted Killeen wouldn't teach her own teenaged son and daughter that this kind of sexual assault was acceptable behavior, so why defend this abominable behavior? It's amazing how morals, and simple taste, fly out the window with the prospect of a hefty paycheck.